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Andy Talley: a champion off the field as well

Posted by Ron Opher On February 19

In another installment of our Philly sports philanthropy series, PhillyPhanatics.com’s Ron Opher had the opportunity to interview Villanova football coach Andy Talley about his longstanding involvement with bone marrow donation.


PhillyPhanatics.com: Coach, please tell us about how the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation got started?

Andy Talley: We’ve been doing bone marrow testing at Villanova for about 18 or 19 years.

I was listening to the radio one day, and on the medical report, an oncologist came on the air and said that people are dying needlessly because we don’t have nearly enough bone marrow donors.

So I started thinking that we have about 85 healthy football players on our team, and we decided to encourage them to be tested, and then I would ask them to go out into the campus community every spring, around the time of their spring game and ask their classmates to join them.

Once that started taking hold, we got about 30 schools from across the country involved – mostly in the East, including Villanova, Penn, Temple, West Chester and Ursinus locally – and we call it “Get in the Game, Save a Life.” We had 8,800 students tested this past year in that program, including over 700 at Villanova.

PP: What’s involved in getting tested?

AT: It’s a cheek swab of cells – it takes about 30 seconds to collect a sample and overall about 20 minutes to complete the paperwork.

PP: That seems like a small investment of time for what could make such a big difference in a cancer patient’s life.

AT: That’s part of the message we’re trying to get out there. But it also costs $100 in supplies and administrative effort for each sample taken.

PP: Where does the money come from?

AT: That’s a great question. The National Marrow Donor Program and their “Be The Match” registry has been supporting our initiative of “Get in the Game, Save a Life.” But it did get to a point where even though we still need more people to register, we were on the verge of signing up more people than they could handle. So I realized that we should set up a nonprofit organization to help not only build awareness of the need to have as many potential donors as possible, but also be able to raise funds to pay for this and other related initiatives.

The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3), is almost a year old, and our first big event is coming up on Saturday evening, February 26th – the Bash as we’re calling it.

PP: Where will the Bash be held?

AT: On the Villanova campus, in the Connelly Center, from 7pm to midnight. We’ll have a cocktail hour, a 3-course buffet dinner, wine and beer open bar, silent auction, dessert and entertainment – including music by the Chatterband. (Click here for ticket information)

PP: Now you’re bringing back memories of my days at Villanova Law with the Chatterband —

AT: We know everyone will have a great time. We have nearly 200 tickets sold so far, and we have room for more – it’s $50 per person to attend, and we’re hoping to raise $40,000 for the Foundation in our first year, to pay for testing and to help individual families as they prepare for a transplant for a loved one.

PP: That’s certainly within reach of a lot of people, just to have a nice night out to help a great cause.

AT: That’s true – we want to make it affordable, but also make an impact. And we have patron and sponsor levels for those who are so inclined. And I’ll be candid with you, when I pick up the phone and tell people about what we’re doing and what the needs are – no one has said no to this.

PP: That’s a credit to you —

AT: Well, it’s a credit to the community we live in.

The odds of finding a match for a Caucasian is one in 60,000. For a person of African-American, Hispanic or Asian origin, it’s one in a million. So the more people we can get to register and have resources to register them, the better chance that someone in need will find a match. Plus, the statistics are showing that younger donors’ cells are working better and being accepted more readily – so the college population is even more likely to be able to help because of that.

PP: And speaking of successful matches, you had a very celebrated one on your team – Matt Szczur

AT: There have been several during the time we’ve done “Get in the Game, Save a Life.” Matt was the first one from Villanova. He actually got the call during our National Championship run. And he was all for being a donor – even though he would miss time playing if he did it. It turned out the little girl he helped save wasn’t quite ready for the transplant at first, so we were fortunate to have him for the 2009 National Championship, where he was MVP of the championship game, and even more fortunate that this ultimately went ahead successfully last spring.

PP: I understand that Matt did miss a chunk of the Villanova baseball season, which is a big deal, since he was drafted later in June by the Cubs and recently signed with the Cubs – that decision may have affected his draft standing and his earning potential. Did he struggle with that decision?

AT: Matt missed 10 baseball games – he gave up the end of his season in 2010. It’s a pretty good life learning lesson for others observing what Matt did, I think. And he was so totally for doing it. Matt was ready to do it during the football season, if need be – he told me when we talked about him potentially missing the FCS playoffs, he said “That’s OK. I’m going to help save this little girl.” So when the timing turned out to be during baseball season, I think he had his mind made up. He’s a special person to do that.

PP: Now I know you’re not a medical person, but you clearly have spent time helping people in need. Can you tell me what’s involved with being a donor and how this works?

AT: It has to do with replacing a cancer patient’s unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones, giving the patient more of an ability to withstand infection and disease. If the match takes, you’re on your way to recovery. The bone marrow transplant is often the last chance for these patients.

People do often think of the procedure where bone marrow is drawn by a needle in the hip and there’s an overnight hospital stay – and that is still how it’s done in about 25% of cases. But in Matt’s case, for example, he underwent a peripheral blood stem cell procedure, which takes blood out of one arm and a machine removes the stem cells and then replaces the rest of the blood in your other arm. This is an outpatient procedure; it takes about four hours. And that’s how it’s done nowadays in about 75% of the cases.

PP: That’s important for people to know that there is a way of being a donor that is somewhat less invasive. I know you can’t play division I sports right afterward, but what can the non-athlete expect if called on to be a donor?

AT: Well, what happens is your spleen is swollen for a few weeks, as a result of a prescription medication you’re given before the procedure to produce more red blood cells. So physical contact is something to avoid for about four weeks. But other than that, you are back to school or work the next day, and just having to be careful to avoid physical contact.

PP: I’ve heard that Matt may meet his recipient, but there’s a one-year period where they remain anonymous to each other.

AT: There’s one year of confidentiality and then if both the donor and the recipient – or in this case, the girl’s parents – agree to meet, they can do that. She’ll be a toddler at that point, a 2 year-old.

Not long ago, I was part of an event at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of the Lauri Strauss Leukemia Foundation, where I was named Volunteer of the Year, then after receiving the award on stage, I was privileged to introduce a donor and a recipient to each other for the first time – where they met on stage. As you can imagine, that was quite moving. So I’ve actually witnessed that type of meeting – it was very heartwarming.

PP: Andy, thank you for taking the time to share more about these good works that you do and that now so many in the community are involved in, thanks to your efforts. I wish you the best as your organization grows and continues to help save lives.

AT: Thank you, Ron, for helping introduce people to what we do. I appreciate it – thanks so much.

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1 Response

  1. Philly sports philanthropy posts listed chronologically | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    […] Andy Talley: a champion off the field as well (2/19/11) […]

    Posted on February 25th, 2011 at 11:18 am

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